McGill honours Sir William Osler


Published: 23Apr1999

One of the 20th century’s most famous and beloved physicians

"It is, I think, safe to say that in a hospital with students in the wards the patients are more carefully looked after, their diseases are more fully studied and fewer mistakes made."

From Aequanimitas and Other Addresses, by William Osler

The contributions of Sir William Osler, arguably one of the most famous and beloved physicians of the 20th century-despite having died as early as 1919-will be celebrated by McGill University throughout the next eight months in honour of the 150th anniversary of Osler’s birth. Born in Bondhead, Ontario, the renowned medical educator spent 10 critical years teaching at McGill before moving on to Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins and finally Oxford where he ended his career as Regius professor and where Dr Wilder Penfield, founder of the Montreal Neuro, developed a deeply personal attachment to him and his wife.

Among the activities planned to commemorate Sir William’s birthday are a variety of public exhibitions, a reunion of the American Osler Society which will hold its annual meeting at McGill for the first time since 1972, an October two-day seminar on medical education, Using the Past to Guide the Future, and the conferring of an honorary degree on the Regius professor of medicine at Oxford, Dr David Weatherall. The links with Osler’s past will be further reaffirmed by the participation in the medical education conference of senior professors of medicine from both Johns Hopkins and Pennsylvania University, where Sir William also taught. The role of technology in medicine, the contribution of humanism, the challenges of alternative medicine, and the place of research are some of the subjects to be addressed in Using the Past to Guide the Future next October. The McGill medical students’ Osler Society has also undertaken a special project, "Osleriana Online."

While at McGill William Osler reformed the teaching of medicine by insisting that students have access to the latest scientific advances and that they spend significantly more time at the patient’s bedside. Today, Osler’s Library of the History of Medicine is the foundation of an extensive program of teaching and research in that subject which is unique in Canada, and one of the very few in the whole of North America.

The Osler Library of the History of Medicine was opened in 1929. Osler had willed 8,000 volumes of rare works on the history of medicine to McGill at his death in 1919. Today the library numbers over 40,000 volumes of rare works as well as works on the history of medicine.

Note: The City of Montreal has recently approved the renaming of the top of Drummond Street, where McGill’s Faculty of Medicine is largely housed, to Promenade Sir William Osler.


Highlights of McGill University’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir William Osler:

April 28-September 1999. "Osler’s McGill: Medical Education from 1870-1885" Redpath Museum.

April 28-September 1999. "Osler’s Montreal" and brochure for self-guided walking tour. "Osler Collects: Selections from Osler, true collector," Osler Library.

May 1999, then September and October 1999. "Hospital Architecture: Treasures from McGill’s Collections," curated by Professor Annmarie Adams, McLennan Library.

All exhibits are free and open to the public. Information: 514-398-4475 ext. 094163.

May 4-10, American Osler Society annual meeting at McGill.

September 1999, Special meeting of the James McGill Society. Faculty Club, 3450 McTavish. Information:

October 29-30, 1999 "Using the Past to Guide the Future, " the Osler Sesquicentennial Seminar on Medical Education, McGill University.

October 28, 1999 Founder’s Day Convocation.


1) Osler Library
McIntyre Medical Sciences Building
3655 Drummond Street

2) Redpath Museum
859 Sherbrooke West
Main McGill Campus

3) McLennan Library
McLennan Library Building
3459 McTavish